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Our Wood Duck Nesting Box is the result of a unique partnership between RCD and a local business. Another example of Who We Help! A local woodworker has carefully constructed our Wood Duck Nesting Box. By purchasing and installing one of our Wood Duck Nesting Boxes, we may, together, promote wood duck populations for the benefit of our natural resources and your operation, or home, while providing an opportunity for a local business to grow!
Why do wood ducks need nest boxes? Wood ducks are mostly found in riparian areas along waterways across most of the North America. Unlike the flooded forest areas of the eastern half of the United States wood ducks in the West are only found in those Pacific Coast states. Beginning in the mid-1800s vast expanses of forested wetlands were drained and cleared throughout North America for agricultural purposes and other human developments. In the Pacific Flyway 1.9 million acres of wood duck habitat were lost or degraded. At one time over 900,000 acres of those riparian forests existed California, but only a fraction of those exist today. Consequently, wood duck populations across North America plummeted. Conservation efforts through significant hunting restrictions of wood ducks for over 50 years with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty combined with a widespread artificial nest box program greatly assisted the recovery of the continental wood duck population. Wood ducks have a high fidelity to returning to the same areas to nest each year, often nesting in the same nest box if not already in use by another female. Interestingly, there has been little change in the amount of forested habitat in the last 100 years, but today’s wood duck populations are at far higher levels than in the early 1900s.
What is the ideal wood duck nest box design? Nest boxes constructed out of wood are safer because wood keeps the inside temperatures cooler for the hen, eggs and duckling before they exit. Redwood and Western Cedar are ideal but more expensive than pine. Several features of the nest box design are crucial to the survival of the hen and eggs. This nest box design was developed to keep raccoons and most other predators out of the box. The entrance hole must be cut to a dimension of 3” in height and 4” in width. Other dimension of box height, amount of wood shavings to add and removable lid to assist easy cleanout and monitoring are essential. Other requirements and planning considerations are below.
Nest Box Placement:
Ideally, nest boxes should be placed within 200 feet of water so that wood duck broods do not have to walk through uplands to reach safe brood rearing habitats. The farther ducklings walk the lower their survival. Wood duck duckling survival is the lowest during those first few days after those one day old ducklings jump from their nest box to the ground or water below.
- Boxes placed over water or in the floodplain should be at placed higher than the topographic floodplain.
- Nest boxes placed over land should be attached to trees, or poles about 8’ above ground. This will help to reduce disturbance from humans and easy access from some predators.
- Attaching boxes to 2” steel pipe is best in areas with high predation pressure from raccoons and snakes
- Nest boxes placed higher make monitoring and maintenance activities more difficult without specialized equipment
- For areas without any existing nest boxes consider placing nest boxes so that they are visible from the creek, stream or wetlands. Woodie females scout areas for nesting and brood rearing in late winter or early spring. Clearing tree limbs around nest box will make boxes more visible to scouting hens and also reduce predation from animal access entrances from these branches.
- Face entrance side of nest box away from prevailing winds and away from the west. Winds and direct exposure to the sun adversely affects temperatures for roosting and nesting owls. Facing entrance side to the East is often the best orientation.
- Place the nest box so that it is either level or leaning slightly forward. Nest boxes leaning backwards makes it very difficult if not impossible for day old ducklings to climb up the inside the nest box to jump out of the entrance. Improperly placed nest boxes are a death trap. Boxes placed on fast growing trees like willows, may reorient the nest box from its original position.
Spacing of Boxes
- As part of their life-history strategy, female wood ducks often lay eggs in each other nest boxes. To reduce this “dump nesting” consider the existing use of nest boxes in the area designated for boxes.
- In areas with dense vegetation in the mid canopy layer, nest boxes can be place as close as 30 feet apart.
- Highly visible nest boxes placed over water should be placed at least 150 apart. In the past nest boxes were placed on both sides of a pole. Please do not do this. This encourages rampant dump nesting, abandonment of clutches and occasionally aggressive behavior by some hens apparently confused about the location of “their” nest site.
- Predatory guards can be used to protect boxes on trees and poles. Native predators can discover active nest boxes and eat eggs, ducklings or attack the incubating hen. Following guidelines on nest box design, wood shavings, box placement will greatly reduce predation pressure.
- Areas with heavy predation should have nest boxes placed on steel poles with sheet metal cone shaped predator guards. These will discourage raccoons, squirrels and snakes from the nest box.
- Wood ducks do not carry nesting material into the box. Natural cavities occasional contain leaves, twigs, grasses or small woody materials in them. Females need at soft bed where they lay their eggs in to before they begin to incubate. Females lay one egg a day, burying that egg below the nesting material located in the nest box or natural cavity. She will continue to do this until she has a complete clutch, which is typically between 12-15 eggs for older hens and fewer for one year old hens. Near the end of her egg laying she will begin to pluck some of her down feathers will provide the insulation from temperature extremes and conceal the eggs from predators.
- Place at least 4-6 inches of wood shavings, regularly available at hardware stores, into the nest box. Do not place more than that otherwise the hen might be sitting too high in the nest box and be within reach of a hungry raccoon.